The target of 174 runs was, at best, a tease rather than a serious challenge. In a season in which leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal has been their only bowler among wickets and off-spinner Moeen Ali has been economical, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) would have loved the opportunity to chase a below-par Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) total for their maiden victory in IPL 2019.
The defeat by laggards RCB has left Punjab with an uphill task. Two of their three remaining home games are against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK), both perched at the top of the table at the moment and seemingly unlikely to lose steam in the tail end of the league phase.
It will rankle Kings XI Punjab that they have not been able to cross the line in successive games in which KL Rahul scored a hundred against Mumbai Indians and Chris Gayle made an unbeaten 99 on Saturday night, but some introspection will show that the batsmen took the foot off the pedal at crucial times and let the opposition get back in the game.
Of course, the overseas fast bowling pair of Andrew Tye and Sam Curran was not effective. But it is a problem that Kings XI Punjab have dealt well through the season. It really was no surprise that AB de Villiers and Marcus Stoinis took Tye and Mohammed Shami for a total 32 runs in their final overs when the ball was skidding nicely on to the bat.
To be fair, if the spinners R Ashwin and M Ashwin could collectively concede not more than seven runs an over in their spells, it should have been possible for the trio of Tye, Shami, and Sam Curran to replicate such economy. Tye had bowled three overs for 22 before conceding 18 to the third-wicket pair in the 18th over. And Shami had figures of one for 29 before his 14-run final over.
Kings XI Punjab skipper R Ashwin was perhaps instinctive in saying that the team lost the game on the field. He did touch upon the fact that the dew played a role in firming the pitch up. To be sure, bowlers would be expected to find answers to such condition. Yet, he perhaps did not have the time to reflect deeper and conclude that it was the batting that lost the game on Saturday.
If and when he does analyse the game with a bit more time at hand, it could become clear that the Kings XI Punjab batsmen did not provide the bowlers with a more competitive total to defend on a track that was getting better because of the dew. It was a game that their batsmen should have put beyond the reach of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, and company.
Aware that the overseas seam bowlers have not made an impact thus far, the onus was on the batsmen to give the team to a bigger total to bowl with. KL Rahul and Mayan Agarwal came off second best in their battle against RCB leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal. Rahul missed a big shot and Mayank Agarwal was bowled playing a defensive shot inside the line.
After being 53 off 34 deliveries at the halfway stage against RCB, Gayle added 46 runs off 31 balls in the second half. That should tell the team’s batsmen, primarily Sarfaraz Khan and Mandeep Singh, something about denying him a larger share of the strike. That also led to the team being unable to match the 90-run show of the first half.
Well as he hit the ball, Gayle scored just six singles off nine deliveries that off-spinner Moeen Ali bowled to him. Besides, the big opener also played 21 of the 39 dot balls that Kings XI Punjab conceded. It is an area that has hurt the team, silently as it were. For, teamwork is not just about partnerships between batsmen and between bowling combinations. It needs a greater awareness from each player in the XI so that the changing conditions of the pitch are provided for. On the evidence of the home team’s batsmen showing on Saturday night, this awareness did not translate to cohesion and a sense of urgency in the middle overs.
In fact, the last two games have been examples of what can happen when a team takes the foot off the pedal. Surely, Ashwin and coach Mike Hesson will bring up with the batsmen before the match against Rajasthan Royals, given that Kings XI Punjab have been left in a precarious position from where their campaign can go further downhill.
Their leadership will, to employ a phrase that Ashwin has often used, be under the pump. It is in managing the resources, getting them ready for each game and with a greater sense of awareness of how the match can pan out that the captain and Hesson can ensure that the team will start stringing together some victories that can take them into the playoffs.
It is not beyond the Kings XI Punjab to lift themselves clear of the competition and secure a berth in the playoffs, but they will do just that bit more to accomplish that goal. It can start with their batsmen papering the cracks that have surfaced since Tye is not quite in the same form as in the last season. Yes, the batsmen will have to do a bit more than they are now.